Atherectomy for peripheral arterial disease

A person with diseased arteries in the legs can experience pain on walking (also known as intermittent claudication), pain at rest (especially at night), or ulcers due to poor blood flow. Established treatments include surgery, where a bypass is inserted to carry blood from an artery above the diseased (blocked or narrowed) section to below the diseased section, and balloon angioplasty, where a deflated balloon is inserted into the vessel and then blown up to stretch the artery thus opening up the narrow or blocked section. Stents may be inserted during angioplasty. In addition to these two established treatments, a less commonly used technique is to core out the artery, cutting or grinding away the disease which is causing the vessel to narrow or block. This is known as atherectomy.

In this review, we compared atherectomy to the more established treatments such as balloon angioplasty and bypass surgery. We identified four studies with a total of 220 participants. All studies compared atherectomy with balloon angioplasty. The studies were of low quality as there was no blinding of the procedures, the studies were not properly powered to show an effect, not all study outcomes were reported and a large number of the initial study populations did not complete the studies.

Although the results of the meta-analyses were imprecise, the average effect of the two treatments was similar in terms of initial success and unobstructed arteries (patency) at six months or 12 months following the procedure. There was a lower risk of death with atherectomy, most likely due to an unexpectedly high number of deaths in the balloon angioplasty group in one of the two trials reporting deaths. Cardiovascular events were not reported in any of the included studies. There was a reduction in the rate of emergency stenting procedures following atherectomy, and balloon inflation pressures were lower following atherectomy. Complications such as formation of clots (embolisation) and tears along the vessels (vessel dissection) were reported in two trials indicating more embolisations in the atherectomy group and more vessel dissections in the angioplasty group but the data could not be combined. The limited data available indicated that there was no clear evidence of a difference between the atherectomy and balloon angioplasty groups for adverse events such as the need for re-intervention due to obstruction of the treated vessel and above-knee amputation. Quality of life and clinical and symptomatic outcomes such as walking distance or symptom relief were not reported in the studies.

We showed that the limited evidence available does not support a significant advantage of atherectomy over conventional balloon angioplasty.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review has identified poor quality evidence to support atherectomy as an alternative to balloon angioplasty in maintaining primary patency at any time interval. There was no evidence for superiority of atherectomy over angioplasty on any outcome, and distal embolisation was not reported in all trials of atherectomy. Properly powered trials are recommended.

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Background: 

Symptomatic peripheral arterial disease may be treated by a number of options including exercise therapy, angioplasty, stenting and bypass surgery. Atherectomy is an alternative technique where atheroma is excised by a rotating cutting blade.

Objectives: 

The objective of this review was to analyse randomised controlled trials comparing atherectomy against any established treatment for peripheral arterial disease in order to evaluate the effectiveness of atherectomy.

Search strategy: 

The Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Diseases Group Trials Search Co-ordinator searched the Specialised Register (last searched November 2013) and CENTRAL (2013, Issue 10). Trials databases were searched for details of ongoing or unpublished studies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing atherectomy and other established treatments were selected for inclusion. All participants had symptomatic peripheral arterial disease with either claudication or critical limb ischaemia and evidence of lower limb arterial disease.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors (GA and CT) screened studies for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the quality of the trials. Any disagreements were resolved through discussion.

Main results: 

Four trials were included with a total of 220 participants (118 treated with atherectomy, 102 treated with balloon angioplasty) and 259 treated vessels (129 treated with atherectomy, 130 treated with balloon angioplasty). All studies compared atherectomy with angioplasty. No study was properly powered or assessors blinded to the procedures and there was a high risk of selection, attrition, detection and reporting biases.

The estimated risk of success was similar between the treatment modalities although the confidence interval (CI) was compatible with small benefits of either treatment for the initial procedural success rate (Mantel-Haenszel risk ratio (RR) 0.92, 95% CI 0.44 to 1.91, P = 0.82), patency at six months (Mantel-Haenszel RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.51 to 1.66, P = 0.79) and patency at 12 months (Mantel-Haenszel RR 1.17, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.90, P = 0.53) following the procedure. The reduction in all-cause mortality with atherectomy was most likely due to an unexpectedly high mortality in the balloon angioplasty group in one of the two trials that reported mortality (Mantel-Haenszel RR 0.24, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.91, P = 0.04). Cardiovascular events were not reported in any study. There was a reduction in the rate of bailout stenting following atherectomy (Mantel-Haenszel RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.84, P = 0.01), and balloon inflation pressures were lower following atherectomy (mean difference -2.73 mmHg, 95% CI -3.48 to -1.98, P < 0.00001). Complications such as embolisation and vessel dissection were reported in two trials indicating more embolisations in the atherectomy group and more vessel dissections in the angioplasty group, but the data could not be pooled. From the limited data available, there was no clear evidence of different rates of adverse events between the atherectomy and balloon angioplasty groups for target vessel revascularisation and above-knee amputation. Quality of life and clinical and symptomatic outcomes such as walking distance or symptom relief were not reported in the studies.

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